When it comes to owning a small business, it’s no secret that Richmond’s the place to be. In fact, in 2016, CNBC gave Richmond, VA the #11 spot in their list of Top 20 Metro Areas to Start a Business. Regardless of the industry, if you start it, there’s a strong chance it’ll thrive. Why? Well, not only is the city’s cost of living lower than many metro areas, but the quality of life, low unemployment rate, and growing population renders it a healthy environment for those looking to contribute to the already booming economy. In addition, the city of Richmond places special emphasis on extending city-wide support to its local entrepreneurs. At every turn, you’re sure to find a string of events highlighting and celebrating these very businesses that employ our residents. From law firms to clothing boutiques and salons to marketing agencies, there’s a seat at the proverbial table for it all. But there’s one industry in particular that Richmond does exceptionally well in, so much so that the city continues to gain national recognition: food. The restaurant industry is booming indeed, and this week, we’ll all have the opportunity to enjoy the culture and cuisine of our black-owned restaurants.
With Black Restaurant Week expanding to Richmond, VA on March 6-12, local residents finally have the opportunity to enjoy the culinary talent of our black restauranteurs. Boasting 20 black-owned restaurants whose menus range from classic “soul food” to small plates and hand-crafted cocktails, Black Restaurant Week provides the opportunity for residents to support small businesses and in turn, those small businesses may build lasting relationships with its patrons.
All of this is thanks to Richmond’s own Shemecia Bowen. One day, while browsing the page of a colleague who founded Black Restaurant Week Memphis, she noticed a comment left by a Richmond reporter. “Why can’t we do something like this in Richmond?” the comment said. Bowen immediately took action.
“I replied to his comment with, ‘We absolutely can’,” explains Bowen, who immediately got to work connecting with her Memphis colleague to coordinate the week-long event in Richmond.
After months of back and forth, Bowen got the green light to coordinate Black Restaurant Week Richmond. She admittedly took on the task not aware of how much work it entailed, but what she did know was that this opportunity would prove to be invaluable in a city as full of locally-owned businesses as Richmond.
“I said yes with no idea of how much work it really was; I just knew that it was a great opportunity for the city, its residents, and our business owners,” she says. “It’s about more than showcasing restaurants that happen to be black-owned. It’s an opportunity to collaborate our economics, as well as engage in collective marketing.”
Initially, Bowen set the goal of having ten restaurants participate, not far off from Memphis’ eight. But with the help of the Central Virginia African American Chamber of Commerce and Urban Views Weekly, her prospect list grew to 35 black restaurant owners. As word continued to spread, her goal of ten was quickly extended, and eventually, Black Restaurant Week Richmond had 20 confirmed participants across the city with a team of volunteers eager to execute initiatives.
“It’s surpassing what we thought we could achieve in just a few months,” says Bowen. “We’ve set economic goals for each business, but also intangible goals, such as improving customer service, building lasting relationships with customers, etc.”
Already two days into this exciting event, Bowen and her team remain excited for the opportunity to highlight the many options available for residents who frequently dine out. In addition, this week provides patrons with a first-hand look into the value local businesses add to the Richmond community.
“Through Black Restaurant Week Richmond, we want the citizens of Richmond to become intentional about where they choose to dine,” explains Bowen. “Chains are okay, but small businesses are directly impacting services and people. They’re creating jobs for people you may know, and are hiring people who may be deemed “unhire-able” or “undesirable. Every dollar we spend in the black community has a residual impact, so let’s make it a point to include small business owners, especially black owners and black-owned restaurants.”
On the business side, Black Restaurant Week is sparking all kinds of innovation and ingenuity. Restaurants have gotten creative with their marketing tactics, and they’re learning the true power of collaborative economics. In fact, owners are already expressing interest in starting a black restaurant business association, pooling their needs and resources to reduce overhead from supplies, staffing, and food.
“This is a great chance for businesses to realize they aren’t in competition; they all have a niché and a brand,” Bowen says. They all offer the city of Richmond wonderful choices and options.”
All in all, Black Restaurant Week is an opportunity for businesses and community members—of all races—alike, to see the power in numbers. The more we collaborate, the stronger we become.